Jonathan Schwartz

Sun Microsystems' CEO talks about the economy, disruptive technologies and necessity as the mother of invention.

Sun Microsystems Inc. CEO Jonathan Schwartz thinks that the economic downturn and the Wall Street meltdown will make IT managers more open to change than they have ever been before. And that is going to benefit Sun and its open-source strategy, contends Schwartz, who is also the company's president and a high-profile blogger.

What are you doing to help your customers with their economic problems? We are preconfigured for the downturn. If you think about the discretionary expenses that go into operating a data center, first and foremost there's the physical plant itself -- the physical space, the power consumption, the HVAC. So all the work that we do around energy efficiency and on getting optimal performance -- it's because the environment ends up being a huge operating expense for our customers. And to the extent that we can help them lower their environmental impact, we're also lowering the economic impact on their businesses. That's clearly Job 1.

The second element of discretionary expense is software licensing, and probably the single biggest license that customers have to buy is [for] proprietary databases. Second on that list are proprietary application servers and an application infrastructure. I just was with a customer who didn't recognize that he had roughly 2,000 developers working with MySQL because it wasn't a purchase standard [in his organization] -- but it had become the de facto [database] standard. He didn't recognize that he could get that level of productivity [from an open-source database].

The same is true for the application server marketplace. OpenSolaris -- now that it is multivendor and multiplatform and the source [code] is available, those environments where you don't need support don't have to pay for it. And then we enable customers that want to subscribe in production environments to pay for the supported version.

With the economic downturn, do you really expect customers in the near term to, say, swap out an Oracle database and replace it with MySQL? Unquestionably. Now, that doesn't mean they are leaving Oracle -- Oracle is a fantastic company, and they've built a fantastic database. But there is no longer one-size-fits-all in the enterprise database marketplace.

In your blog, you talked about aggressively expanding your customer base. How does the new four-socket Sparc Enterprise T5440 help you do that? It's a little unlikely that this server is going to be the first system that a new customer buys from Sun. I don't want to close off that option, [but] it's more likely that they pick up a one-socket Niagara system. Just on price point, you seldom spend $50,000 to $100,000 on your first server, and that's the price range that these [new] systems start at.

Niagara as a whole, though, gives us access to a market that really is representative of a unique problem space. We don't see IBM with [its System p line] at all in the Niagara space. What brings new customers to Sun is differentiation and innovation. [They] want to be 50% faster, or 50% more energy-efficient, or half the size. Those things, when added up across really large data centers, mean real money to real customers.

Sun fosters a reputation as a disruptive company, from a technology standpoint. But what will it mean to be disruptive going forward? You want to be careful. You want to be disruptive to the industry; you don't want to be disruptive to your customers. I'll give you a great example of the kind of disruption that the market is going to see from Sun in the next 12 months. We have been very aggressively promoting OpenSolaris in the marketplace, and there are a lot of storage vendors that have been really excited to embrace open-source operating systems -- so long as they stay on servers.

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